More than 145,000 healthcare practitioners left the industry from 2021 through 2022, threatening access and quality, according to a report published Monday.
Physicians accounted for roughly half of the healthcare workers who retired or changed professions over the two-year span, according to an analysis of all-payer claims data from Definitive Healthcare, a healthcare commercial intelligence company. More than 71,000 physicians left the workforce from 2021 to 2022.
Here are five takeaways from the Definitive Healthcare study:
1. Primary care, mental health docs led exodus
Internal medicine and family practice physicians accounted for more than 16,000 of the 71,309 doctors who left the field by 2022. Eleven thousand clinical psychologists and psychiatrists retired or switched professions.
The average age of the primary care and mental health practitioners who remain is nearly 60, which signals that staffing shortages will deepen over the next few years, said John Markloff, Definitive Healthcare's senior director of data strategy.
"Shortages have led to longer wait times for patients to receive care or outright delays in access to diagnosis and treatment," Markloff said. About 9% of all healthcare workers who left the industry by 2022 were licensed clinical social workers, and their departures weaken access to care, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the availability of care in locations that already had too few nearby providers. Nearly one-third of Americans do not have access to primary care due to a local shortages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2014, previous research from the National Association of Community Health Centers and the American Academy of Family Physicians showed.
Meanwhile, half of counties do not have a psychiatrist or an addiction medicine specialist, which disproportionately affects low-income patients, according to data from George Washington University.
The number of medical residents pursuing careers in primary care and mental health has increased. But rising demand and an ongoing wave of retirements are outpacing the supply of new clinicians, which threatens to strain the healthcare system for years.
2. Staffing shortages cause medical errors
Medical errors contribute to more than 250,000 deaths a year, many of which are traced to staffing shortages, according to Definitive Healthcare cites in its report.
More than one third of doctors worldwide attributed medical errors to staffing shortages in a 2022 poll conducted by research firms Survey Health Global and Apollo Intelligence. Staffing shortages also have led to delays in care, respondents reported.